Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Travel

Theme park guide: EcoSafari's zip line roller coaster is a screaming good time

Staring at the eight-story zip line tower, I thought, "How bad could this be?" If 10-year-olds can do it, surely an adventure-seeking adult can.

Then I thought of the boys I know that age. Fearless, invincible, wild. They'll try anything stupid.

But there I was, perched on the edge, a harness strapped to my body and a videocamera mounted to my head. Bail now and I wouldn't have much to write about. Could chickening out be a fireable offense?

So I took a deep breath and jumped.

The new Rattlesnake at Florida EcoSafaris takes riders on a 90-second zip line roller coaster through the treetops. Called the first of its kind in the United States, it moves like a roller coaster but rides like a zip line. Hills and drops create a feeling of free fall. Hanging from a single metal track makes even SheiKra seem secure.

I screamed the entire course — both times — but loved it.

The Rattlesnake is one of several new attractions at Florida EcoSafaris in St. Cloud, about two hours east of Tampa. The zip lining park is part of Florida Forever, a 4,700-acre nature preserve and ranch that also has camping, horseback riding and wildlife safari trips.

Forever Florida introduced zip lining five years ago and added the Zipline Safari last year. The course has seven zip lines and three skybridges with stunning views of untouched Florida for as far as the eye can see (except for a distant landfill, sadly).

Last month, the park opened the Rattlesnake, Peregrine Plunge and Panther Pounce. The Swooping Crane is coming soon. The Peregrine Plunge is a 1,300-foot straightaway zip line, the longest in Florida. The Panther Pounce is a 68-foot drop from a platform guided by a cable.

Out of everything, the Panther Pounce takes the most guts. You've got to jump into nothingness and free fall for a few seconds before the cable slows your descent. I almost couldn't do it and credit my guide, Isaac Moreno, for talking me through the fear.

Once on the ground, I broke into a euphoric victory dance.

The guides at EcoSafaris are exceptional. Of course, they make safety a priority, but they also make the experience fun and double as therapists for anyone who gets cold feet. (Yes, it happens.) By the end of the day, you will consider them friends.

Admission is $135 a day per person for unlimited zip lining, including the roller coaster and other new features. The basic Zipline Safari, which takes about 2 1/2 hours, costs $85.

While a bit more expensive than other theme parks, a portion goes toward protecting Florida's wilderness. After spending a day in the quiet outdoors, I found that just as exhilarating as zip lining between the trees — and a lot less scary.

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